TITLE: Piaroa Kohue Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Brazil
SUBREGION: Orinoco River Basin
ETHNICITY: Piaroa
DESCRIPTION: Kohue (Vampire Bat) Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Warime Ritual
AGE: 1980s
MAIN MATERIAL: clay
OTHER MATERIALS: wicker; bark cloth; beeswax; pigment; dried grass

The Piaroa people inhabit the Orinoco River Basin region of Venezuela and northern Brazil. They are an extremely peaceful people with a political structure that anthropologists describe as nearly anarchic.

The warime ceremony is the biggest festival of Piaroa society. It includes a purification ritual in which masqueraders represent animal spirits and proclaim their deeds of the year to the tribe, good and bad, to seek respectively praise or forgiveness. This mask represents an animal spirit, specifically the Kohue (vampire bat).

Masqueraders must receive religious instruction from a shaman beforehand, and his incantation is accompanied by music on traditional instruments.

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TITLE: Shamanic Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: Nepal
SUBREGION: Middle Hills
ETHNICITY: Gurung or Magar
DESCRIPTION: Shamanic Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Healing; Purification
AGE: 1890s-1920s
MAIN MATERIAL: smoked wood
OTHER MATERIALS: animal fat; animal hair; natural adhesive

This mask originates in the middle hills area of the Himalaya mountains, either from the Gurung or Magar people. Such masks are among the most primitive in use in the world, and are made by carving wood, coating it with yak butter fat, and charring it over a smoky fire.

The shaman plays an important social role as the channeler of spirits for healing, purification, and protection of those under his supervision. Masks help the shaman embody one of the spirits that surround the living world and use it to heal the sick, drive away evil influences, and guide villagers through changes in their lives (birth, adulthood, changes in social status, death) that might be affected by the spirit world. When hung in a house, the mask serves a protective function.  The Magar and Gurung people use very similar masks for identical purposes.

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TITLE: Wayang Wong Ravana
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: Indonesia
SUBREGION: Bali
ETHNICITY: Balinese
DESCRIPTION: Ravana Mask
MAKER: Ida Made Sutiarka, Singapadu (1974- )
CEREMONY: Wayang Wong
AGE: 2018
MAIN MATERIAL: pule wood
OTHER MATERIALS: leather; cotton; oil-based paint; gilded silver jewelry; rhinestones; mirrors; gold leaf; string

The Wayang Wong dance drama retells parts of the Hindu epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. These epics revolve around the god Rama and his battle with the demon king Ravana, who has abducted Rama’s wife, Sita. In the end, Rama retrieves her with the help of the wily monkey god, Hanuman.  This mask represents the antihero Ravana, whose nature is somewhat ambiguous in Hindu lore. On one hand, he is generally thought to have been a capable king. On the other, his evil deeds doom him to retribution at the hands of Rama and his allies.

For more on Balinese masks, see Judy Slattum, Masks of Bali: Spirits of an Ancient Drama (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1992).


Video of a Wayang Wong performance in Bali, Indonesia.

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TITLE: Tapuanu Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Oceania
COUNTRY: Micronesia, Federated States of
SUBREGION: Nomoi (Mortlock) Islands
ETHNICITY: Micronesian
DESCRIPTION: Tapuanu Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Soutapuana Society
FUNCTION: Agriculture; Protection; Secret Society
AGE: 1940s
MAIN MATERIAL: palm wood
OTHER MATERIALS: natural pigments (lime and coal)

The Micronesian islands are inhabited by an ethnic mix of Melanesian, Polynesian and Filipino peoples. The Nomoi Islands (formerly known as the Mortlock Islands) are a group of three large atolls in the Chuuk region of Micronesia: Satawan, Etal, and Lukunor. The Micronesian people have only a single kind of face mask, known as tapuanu, and created by the Soutapuana Society. The mask represents a protective ancestor spirit, and is danced in beachside and sacred house ceremonies to ward off typhoons that might harm the breadfruit tree, an important source of food for the inhabitants of the islands.  tapuanu mask danced by the Soutapuana Secret Society of the Nomoi Islands during ceremonies to protect the village and its breadfruit trees from natural disasters. The tapuanu can also frighten away ghosts that steal food.

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TITLE: Capra Mask
TYPE: hood mask
GENERAL REGION: Europe
COUNTRY: Romania
ETHNICITY: Romanian-Moldovan
DESCRIPTION: Bătrânul (Old Man) Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Capra (Goat Dance)
AGE: 1980s
MAIN MATERIAL: wool
OTHER MATERIALS: dyed cotton cloth; goat leather and hair; cotton batting; dyed cotton tassels; stitching; plastic buttons

The capra, or goat dance, is performed in parts of rural Romania on New Year’s Eve as part of a caroling tradition. In pre-Christian times, the ritual was probably intended to drive away winter spirits and purify the village. In the dance, masqueraders in bătrânul (old man) masks and costumes and large bells dance to the music of traditional pipes with either a living goat or a masquerader dressed as one.

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TITLE: Yaqui Pasko’ola Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Sonora
ETHNICITY: Yaqui
DESCRIPTION: Mañor Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Pasko’ola
FUNCTION: celebration; entertainment; funeral; protection
AGE: ca. 1980s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; string; horse hair

The Yaqui and related Mayo people inhabit the desert in the Mexican state of Sonora and southern Arizona. Their religious beliefs are a syncretic version of traditional animist practices and Jesuitical Catholicism. The pasko’olas (in the Spanish, pascolas) were malignant spirits, or children of the Devil, whom God won in a game. For that reason, their masks frequently have crucifixes and they wear a belt with twelve bells, each representing an apostle. To symbolize their evil origins, the masks have ugly expressions and vermin such as lizards, snakes and scorpions painted on them. In addition, dancers wear cords and butterfly cocoons on their legs, representing snakes and their rattles. They also wear a flower on their head, to symbolize rebirth and spring. They frequently play the role of clowns, provoking laughter in the audience by mimicking animals, reversing gender roles, organizing mock hunts, and making jokes.

Pasko’olas are danced at every major religious festival, as well as at birthdays, weddings, and funeral celebrations. For example, in Vicam, pasko’olas have traditionally danced on Día de San Juan Bautista (June 24). Sometimes a group of pasko’olas will be accompanied by a deer dancer, who dances with a taxidermy deer head as a crest. Generally, only men are pasko’ola dancers, but women have sometimes been allowed to dance with the permission of the male dancers.

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TITLE: Rarung
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: Indonesia
SUBREGION: Bali
ETHNICITY: Balinese
DESCRIPTION: Rarung Mask
MAKER: Ida Made Sutiarka, Singapadu (1974- )
CEREMONY: Calonarang
AGE: 2017
MAIN MATERIAL: pule wood
OTHER MATERIALS: leather; cotton; felt; rubber straps; oil-based paint; gilded silver jewelry; rhinestones; mirrors; gold leaf

Rarung is a witch-demon and one of the primary apprentices of Calonarang, the child-eating demon and queen of the evil witches (leyak). She leads her army against the forces of good, represented by the protective Barong and his allies. Calonarang has many affinities to the destructive Hindu god Kali, worshiped in parts of India, but she also seems to be associated with the Javanese mythical witch by the same name. Rarung appears in the Iyeg Rarung episode of the Calonarang, in which the eponymous character disputes with Minister Madri of Daha. Other apprentices include Lenda, Lendi, Gandi, Weksirsa, Jaran Guyang, and Mahesa Wedan.

For more on Balinese masks, see Judy Slattum, Masks of Bali: Spirits of an Ancient Drama (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1992).

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TITLE: Mayo Fariseo
TYPE: face mask portion of a helmet mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Sinaloa
ETHNICITY: Mayo
DESCRIPTION: Judio (Fariseo) Mask
MAKER: Unknown maker in Mochicahui
CEREMONY: Holy Week (Fariseo Dance-Drama)
FUNCTION: celebration; purification; social control
AGE: ca. 1960s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: metal wire mesh; glue; pigment

The Yaqui and related Mayo people inhabit the desert in the Mexican state of Sonora and southern Arizona. Their religious beliefs are a syncretic version of traditional animist practices and Jesuitical Catholicism. The fariseos (Mayo) or chapayekas (Yaqui) are an important society in both communities and are mainly active during the three months surrounding Holy Week. The fariseos in theory represent Pharisees, or the Jews (judios) who supposedly condemned Jesus (it was actually the Romans), and are always represented by leather helmets with wood or painted faces.

Fariseos are organized by a society, with each celebration having a fariseo cabo (head Pharisee) who goes unmasked and organizes the dancers. To join the fariseo society, an applicant must be endorsed by a godfather (padrino) who is already a fariseo, and a godmother (padrina) who is a singer.

Fariseos usually begin dancing for several hours at the houses where idols of saints are kept, and then they come to dance in the town ramadas in the plaza, where the pasko’olas, deer dancer, and coyote dancers have been dancing.

In some village ceremonies, the fariseos, representing evil, repeatedly attack the church and are repelled by Christians throwing flowers. In others, unmasked fariseos represent the Roman persecutors of Christ bearing wooden swords and have battles with masked Christian caballeros (cavalry). Ultimately, the fariseos are defeated and convert to Christianity.  In still other villages, the fariseos follow the procession of the icons of the church and mimic searching for Jesus. Dancing as a fariseo is believed to put the dancer in the good graces of Jesus. When the masked fariseos dance, the dancer holds a rosary with a cross in his mouth during the ceremony to ward off evil.

Normally, all fariseo masks except two are burned after Holy Week. More are made in preparation for the following year. The two that are preserved are kept to be buried with any member of the fariseo society who happens to die during that year. Once worn, the masks are considered sacred objects, because the fariseos pray while dancing.

During Holy Week, the fariseo society takes over most of the legal, police, and religious ceremonies of the Yaqui and Mayo villages. For example, working was traditionally prohibited on Ash Wednesday, and anyone caught working would be brought before the fariseo cabo and fined or, if he or she had no money, forced to drag a heavy mesquite cross along the procession route. At Lent, the fariseos go from house to house, collecting donations for the Fiesta de la Gloria and other religious celebrations.

This mask was formerly attached to a coyote pelt that was not properly cured and disintegrated over time.

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TITLE: Tapuanu Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Oceania
COUNTRY: Micronesia, Federated States of
SUBREGION: Nomoi (Mortlock) Islands
ETHNICITY: Micronesian
DESCRIPTION: Tapuanu Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Soutapuana Society
FUNCTION: Agriculture; Protection; Secret Society
AGE: late 20th century
MAIN MATERIAL: breadfruit tree wood
OTHER MATERIALS: natural pigments (lime and coal)

The Micronesian islands are inhabited by an ethnic mix of Melanesian, Polynesian and Filipino peoples. The Nomoi Islands (formerly known as the Mortlock Islands) are a group of three large atolls in the Chuuk region of Micronesia: Satawan, Etal, and Lukunor. The Micronesian people have only a single kind of face mask, known as tapuanu, and created by the Soutapuana Society. The mask represents a protective ancestor spirit, and is danced in beachside and sacred house ceremonies to ward off typhoons that might harm the breadfruit tree, an important source of food for the inhabitants of the islands. The tapuanu can also frighten away ghosts that steal food.

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TITLE: Mayo Fariseo
TYPE: helmet mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Sonora
ETHNICITY: Mayo
DESCRIPTION: Fariseo (Chapayeka) Mask
MAKER: Francisco Gamez, Masiaca (Navojoa, Sonora)
CEREMONY: Holy Week (Fariseo Dance-Drama)
FUNCTION: celebration; purification; social control
AGE: early 2010s
MAIN MATERIAL: javelina leather and fur
OTHER MATERIALS: wood; paint; string; hardware

The Yaqui and related Mayo people inhabit the desert in the Mexican state of Sonora and southern Arizona. Their religious beliefs are a syncretic version of traditional animist practices and Jesuitical Catholicism. The fariseos (Mayo) or chapayekas (Yaqui) are an important society in both communities and are mainly active during the three months surrounding Holy Week. The fariseos in theory represent Pharisees, or the Jews (judios) who supposedly condemned Jesus (it was actually the Romans), and are always represented by leather helmets with wood or painted faces.

Fariseos are organized by a society, with each celebration having a fariseo cabo (head Pharisee) who goes unmasked and organizes the dancers. To join the fariseo society, an applicant must be endorsed by a godfather (padrino) who is already a fariseo, and a godmother (padrina) who is a singer.

Fariseos usually begin dancing for several hours at the houses where idols of saints are kept, and then they come to dance in the town ramadas in the plaza, where the pasko’olas, deer dancer, and coyote dancers have been dancing.

In some village ceremonies, the fariseos, representing evil, repeatedly attack the church and are repelled by Christians throwing flowers. In others, unmasked fariseos represent the Roman persecutors of Christ bearing wooden swords and have battles with masked Christian caballeros (cavalry). Ultimately, the fariseos are defeated and convert to Christianity.  In still other villages, the fariseos follow the procession of the icons of the church and mimic searching for Jesus. Dancing as a fariseo is believed to put the dancer in the good graces of Jesus. When the masked fariseos dance, the dancer holds a rosary with a cross in his mouth during the ceremony to ward off evil.

Normally, all fariseo masks except two are burned after Holy Week. More are made in preparation for the following year. The two that are preserved are kept to be buried with any member of the fariseo society who happens to die during that year. Once worn, the masks are considered sacred objects, because the fariseos pray while dancing.

During Holy Week, the fariseo society takes over most of the legal, police, and religious ceremonies of the Yaqui and Mayo villages. For example, working was traditionally prohibited on Ash Wednesday, and anyone caught working would be brought before the fariseo cabo and fined or, if he or she had no money, forced to drag a heavy mesquite cross along the procession route. At Lent, the fariseos go from house to house, collecting donations for the Fiesta de la Gloria and other religious celebrations.

This mask is made of javelina leather and exaggerates the grotesque aspect of the fariseo by having a wooden penis emerge from and disappear into his mouth where his tongue would be, pulled by a string.

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